Alan Rudolph

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist


Seven Good Reasons to Blame Your Partner (And Why None of Them Are Good Enough)

Posted on June 4, 2017 at 3:20 PM Comments comments (62)

Seven Good Reasons to Blame Your Partner (And Why None of Them Are Good Enough)

Robert Solley

Reason #7 — It’s Easy!
Under stress it’s often easier to see what someone else is doing wrong than what you are doing wrong. It’s easier to see the food stuck in your partner’s teeth than your own. To see your own you would first need to locate a mirror and then look into it. And then you would need to open your lips to be able to see your own teeth. And we’re not even talking yet about finding the motivation to locate and look in the mirror, much less to expose the ugly condition of your teeth to yourself.

Reason #6 — It’s Fun
Well, OK, maybe not fun fun. But it feels good at some level. At it’s worst, blaming someone else feels good in a vengeful, “I gotcha” kind of way. More often there’s a venting, energy-release part that’s somewhat satisfying. But then there’s another part feels not-so-good, in an out-of-control, guilty kind of way. However, even the bad part of this feeling may be more comfortable than it should be. For example, how you would you feel right at that point if you really took responsibility for whatever part of the conflict was yours.
Because there’s almost always some part that’s yours.
To really take responsibility you might have to fight through a wall of shame. In the moment, that would be painful — to really acknowledge that you did something wrong, were bad, screwed up, were unthinking, or whatever it might be. See Reason #5!

Reason #5 — Accepting Responsibility and Feeling Bad Are Hard
This is a corollary to Reason 2. What makes accepting responsibility especially hard is shame, which most of us feel to varying degrees (psychopaths are an exception). This is the feeling that fundamentally we aren’t good enough as human beings, that we’re flawed, inadequate, broken, defective…need I say more? So if we start to accept the idea that we might have done something a little wrong, for some it can tap into this big pool of “I’m all bad.” And that just feels awful! Since the function of shame in society is to act as a sanction against violating important social norms, it leaves one feeling alone. At its worst you can feel totally isolated in your badness, cut off from any possibility of love from anyone else, for eternity. Wow, no wonder it feels better to blame your partner! But wait, there’s more…

Reason #4 — We’ve Been Taught All Our Lives to Blame
Starting as little kids we were taught right and wrong — and especially wrong. First by our parents, and then by our teachers through the long years of school into adulthood. Right and wrong behaviors, right and wrong answers, right and wrong everything. That highlighted and underscored those feelings of shame for the most significant, tender formative years of our lives (to say nothing of adulthood). We also learned that if you can successfully deny it, or push the responsibility off onto someone else then you don’t have to feel that shame as much. “I didn’t do it, Gertrude did!”

Reason #3 — We Use Ourselves As the Standard
We each tend to think that “The way I do it is the best way.” Of course! We’ve spent our whole lives improving on (or working against) what our parents taught us, so this must be the way to do it! Perhaps the only way to do it! “If you would only do it my way!” Well, it turns out there are lots of ways to do things, and in many cases either it doesn’t really matter, different conditions may demand different ways, or at any rate it’s probably not worth losing your relationship over. But giving up ideas, beliefs, or ways of doing things, can be scary. It can feel like something terrible would happen, or you might lose yourself.

Reason #2 — It’s Hard to Fully Accept That Your Partner Is a Different Person
This is a corollary to #3. Things would seemingly be much easier and smoother if your partner just thought about and did things the way you do. But your partner is a different person, with his or her own ideas, personality, and habits. At some level we’re aware of this, but too often if our partners do something differently from how we would, we feel anger and frustration. And we bolster our anger will all manner of justifications and rationalizations. “But my way really is better. No, really.” And sometimes it is.
But how much of the time is it worth sacrificing your relationship for being right, or wanting your partner to respond the same way you do?
Coming to terms with those differences can be painful, can make you feel separate from them, can scare you that maybe you and your partner are too different after all. But it can also bring you closer in the long run if you can talk about and learn to accept each other’s differences.

Reason #1 — It’s Animal Nature to Bite Back
When we feel criticized or blamed it’s natural to criticize or blame back. This is an extension of our protective reflex to attack sources of physical threat or pain. So it makes perfect sense that when we are hurt emotionally we would try to hurt back in an effort to relieve our own pain. This instinct may be one of the most powerful forces behind blame, and especially the kind of reflexive retaliatory blame that gets us stuck in miserable escalating fights. Our best intentions can be little match against mother nature’s hard-wiring. But again, we can become more self-aware, learn the signals that precede blaming, and do something else instead.

Why None of These Reasons Are Good Enough
Think of a time when you have felt blamed or criticized. Remember how it felt inside? Think of a time when you were in a fight with your partner. Chances are, at least part of what you were feeling was blamed, criticized, hurt, and angry. Now think of how you felt the next day or perhaps days later (assuming that you did have some recovery from that fight). Remember how much more clearly you could think about the topics, how much broader your perspective was? Remember how much more you could think about your partner’s point of view in a more open way? Perhaps you were even able to come to some resolution with your partner in that calmer place. If not, or if it’s hard to even get to a calmer, clearer place after a day or so, then perhaps the pain you are causing each other is becoming chronic and this would be a good time to seek counseling.

When we feel blamed, criticized, or misunderstood, the feelings of hurt and anger take over our minds and bodies, making it almost impossible to have a decent conversation. Not only are we unable to think clearly, but it becomes much more difficult to really listen to our partners. Furthermore — since it is natural to retaliate in an effort to get relief from the pain, we strike back, inducing all of those same bad feelings that we are having in our partner. So now we are both not only impaired, but caught in an unpleasant cycle with each other that’s only getting worse.

Knowing how bad it feels to feel blamed or criticized, and knowing how it cripples the conversation and relationship, wouldn’t it seem worthwhile to learn to retrain those reflexes? Here are two alternatives to think about next time:
  • Identify and name your vulnerable emotions. Anger and frustration are usually the easiest to name — and better to name them than to act them out. But they are not the most vulnerable feelings. See if you can locate some sadness (loss) and/or fear and talk about those.
  • Push yourself to have compassion for your partner. Are they having a bad day? What other stresses are acting on them? What vulnerabilities do they have or are they guarding? Is this a pattern that was adaptive for them in childhood, in the face of painful events back then?
Learn to catch your blaming tendencies before they come out and hurt someone — especially your partner.

The power of vulnerability

Posted on September 21, 2014 at 10:42 AM Comments comments (65)
Looking to get more from life?  This video can help:

Brene Brown: The power of vulnerability

Why isn't a man more like a woman?

Posted on June 22, 2012 at 1:42 PM Comments comments (107)
My clients and I spend a lot of time looking at why their partners don't do what they expect.  Simply put, men and women are very different.  Here is an article by Laura Schaefer that helps explain differences:

The Male Brain, Explained
By Laura Schaefer

Women have puzzled over it for years—why the heck do men do the things they do? Why do they profess their love for you one minute, then ignore you the next (say, when an Attila the Hun special turns up on TV)? Why can they not remember our birthdays? Let science explain some of these conundrums—and help you rev up your relationships!

Be patient with his memory
The hippocampus, where initial memories are formed, occupies a smaller percent of the male brain than the female brain. If on your first date he can't remember where you work, even though you told him all about it when you met, just remember that size matters … hippocampus size, that is. Don't take it personally. (Oh, and don't be surprised when, months down the line, he has no clue you've just changed your hair.)

Don't expect him to get hints
Have a crush on him? You may have to put it out there, because men aren't as skilled at women at reading subtle emotional cues. As Dr. Larry Cahill of the University of California at Irvine puts it, "We have been assuming that the ways in which emotions are organized in the brain are essentially similar in men and women," but they aren't. Parts of the limbic cortex, which is involved in emotional responses, are smaller in men than in women. Additionally, scientists at McMaster University have found that guys have a smaller density of neurons in areas of the temporal lobe that deal with language processing. That's why it's probably a good idea to
tell him straight-up how you're feeling ("I'm kind of hurt that you forgot I hate sushi"). Expecting him to infer from your hints could leave both of you scratching your heads.

Don't take conversation lulls personally
Fact is, guys in general just aren't as verbally adept as women are. Large parts of the cortex — the brain's outer layer that does a big part of recognizing and using subtle language cues — are thinner in men than they are in women. A study led by Dr. Godfrey Pearlson of Johns Hopkins University has shown that two areas in the frontal and temporal lobes that play an important role in language processing are significantly smaller in men. Using MRIs, the Johns Hopkins scientists measured gray matter volumes in several brain regions in 17 females and 43 males. Women had 23 percent more volume than men in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and 13 percent more volume than men in the superior temporal cortex. "Women," explains Dr. Cahill, "excel in being able to come up with appropriate words, given cues." Men — not so much. Don't expect him to chatter with you on dates with the skill of a girlfriend, and don't assume he's not interested in you if he occasionally lets the conversation lapse. Think of it this way: He's simply basking in moments of quiet companionship.

Appreciate his naturally upbeat nature
Does he seem to be "up" most of the time? It's not your imagination: Male brains produce 52 percent more serotonin (the chemical that influences mood) than female brains, according to a study done at McGill University. And studies show that fewer men than women suffer from depression. Guys may also have an easier time rolling with life's big stresses. If he tells you he recently lost his golden lab or suffered a job loss and doesn't get all teary, it doesn't mean he's heartless; rather, he has healthy stores of serotonin.

Don't expect his take on your relationship history to match yours
He may be incapable of seeing your shared past the way you do. Brain images have started to show that men and women use their brains in vastly different ways. For example, women use the left part of the amygdala — the part of the brain that creates emotional reactions to events — to put memories in order by emotional strength, meaning that something emotionally important to them (like a great first date a couple of months ago) will be ordered in front of what they ate for breakfast yesterday. Men, however, use the right part of the amygdala to put memories in order. Traditionally, the right hemisphere of the brain is associated with the central action of an event, while the left hemisphere is associated with finer details. Translation: You'll both remember your first date, but he might not remember the color of your sweater or the light rain that was falling that night. It doesn't mean he was checked out; it just means he's a guy.

Remember his brain is his largest sex organ
In males of several species including humans, the preoptic area of the hypothalamus is greater in volume, in cross-sectional area and in the number of cells. In men, this area is more than two times larger than in women, and it contains twice as many cells. And what, say you, does this have to do with the horizontal mambo? Plenty. This area of the hypothalamus is in charge of mating behavior.

This small structure connects to the pituitary gland, which releases sex hormones. So if your bf wants to get intimate all the time and you feel like Ms. Low Desire, remember: You're just experiencing normal, brain-based differences.

Laura Schaefer is the author of
Man with Farm Seeks Woman with Tractor: The Best and Worst Personal Ads of All Time.
For the other side of this story, read
Article courtesy of Happen magazine,